Sunday, June 19, 2016

Successfully Getting That Awesome Internship

The Problem of Cookie Cutter Students
You don't know how many times I look at internship applicants from the same university and they all look the same.  They all took the same courses with the same projects.  After a while I can't tell if the only difference in the resumes is formatting and the name at the top.  When I am selecting a candidate, I want a person that stands out for all of the right reasons.  Obviously, the person has to have the skills or ability to quickly get the skills needed to execute in the area that we are focused.  However, ]if you look like all the other candidates from your school then you are leaving the decision of getting that lucrative internship to the whims of the selector.  If you are going to stand out then you have to understand what defines a standout.
What Defines a Standout
Employers from top companies want passionate employees who will find ways around obstacles.  Students that take initiative and have grit.  People who are creative problem solvers, driven to succeed and work as a team.  Great communicators that know the importance of listening.  
So you have got this laundry list of characteristics, but how do you demonstrate this?
How to Stand Out
You need to do extra side projects on your own in areas that you are interested in.   Take initiative by taking online courses and starting your own company.  I do not like hearing about how you are genuinely interested in computer vision, graphics, security, etc. but you didn't have the prerequisites, or the class was full, or the time slot was conflicting with your other core classes.  You have the Internet and it is the Golden Age of the Internet.  You can find almost anything to learn out there and if you can't find it you can connect with the people researching your area of interest to find ways to work together.
Find problems that need to be solved and then solve them.  Don't wait for the professor to give you an assignment.

Who knows, if the problem you solve is real, you may not need the internship after all.

Tips for a Successful Email Marketing Campaign: Power of 8

Make the first 8 words you write compelling.
Email has become the bane of most email boxes.  Every time you want to view articles or receive content on a web site you usually have to give up your email address.
In some cases, the emails you receive are valuable but in other cases the information is a waste of time.
In many cases going through your emails is a game of technical Russian Roulette because you can’t see what the email is about.  And this is where the power of 8 comes into play.
When running a successful email campaign make sure that the first 8 words of the subject and email are compelling to the person you are marketing to.
For example, I get daily alerts from the Harvard Business Review where the subject is “The Daily Alert from Harvard Business Review” and the first words of the email are “Are you having trouble viewing this email?”
This is a waste.
The subject of the email should be specific to the email content such as “Keeping Your Entrepreneurial Faith from Fading” and the first words of the email message body should be “To succeed you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality.”  These two things are usually visible in the preview for most email browser and desktop clients.
I am surprised that Harvard Business Review is making this mistake as they are supposed to be “practicing what they preach” but instead they are making one of the most fundamental email marketing mistakes.  I know Harvard knows what they are doing as I took all 30+ Harvard Management Mentor training classes.

Remember to make the first 8 words of whatever you write, say, or email compelling so you improve the possibility of someone listening to you, reading your email or diving into your article.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Are You in the Top 15% of Your Company (Warning...You May Not Like This If You Are Part of the 85%)

In my quest to be a great CEO, I have been going around trying to find out what motivates people to go the extra mile (put in 150%).

The general consensus that I got was:
  • Ownership
    1. In the company’s success. A feeling that your success and the company’s success are linked. Usually via stock or stock options which have good potential value. If you have an insignificant amount of stock in the company or the value of the company is in the toilet, then this loses its power to motivate.
    2. Being a part of a delivered product which is important. Examples are developing the core pricing algorithm for your product management solution or derivatives valuation engine.  Usually there are few positions like this because the problem is broken down into smaller pieces worked on by a team.
  • Buying into the company values, mission, and culture
    1. You feel the company is trying to solve a problem that you care about personally. But most companies do not adequately build their values, mission, and culture in a way that people can rally around.
  • Recognition
    1. You feel that what you are working on will be acknowledged by higher ups if it is successful. Unfortunately, many projects may fail or only produce mediocre results.
  • Effect on the company’s success
    1. You feel that what you are working on will help the company be successful and will have a great effect on the company’s future. This is getting harder and harder to do. If you look at Apple, almost every project that they were working on in the past had this potential but now the environment and expectations are higher.  Making it difficult to surpass prior results.
  • Effect on other people
    1. You feel that what you are working on will positively affect people in the world. It is debatable whether most products that are developed today are really making the world a better place.  Even electric cars are powered by electricity generated by coal fired plants in many parts of the world (including the China, US, and India).  And what do you do with the caustic chemicals from the millions of batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles that will need to be disposed of later?
  • Rewards
    1. You will get some prize (bonus, additional stock, vacation trip, etc.) for successful completion of a project. This is difficult to do because you are expected to deliver your projects because you are getting a salary.
So the end result that I have seen is that many people are discouraged to put in extra effort.  They don’t believe that what they are doing will produce any great reward, promotion, or outcome in their lives because the usual suspects get all of the rewards and promotions.  Some feel that this is a result of favoritism or because of a situation where people who got early opportunities capitalized on their luck to establish themselves.
Usually companies have a ranking system where the “outstanding” (top 15%) employees are fast tracked and the rest move a bit slower up the ranks.
So the rest of the 85% accept their position in life and choose the option of "balancing work and life".  Just collecting a pay check and trying to do whatever they have to at work.
The thing most people don’t realize is that life is a long journey.  What you do today to make yourself outstanding may not get recognized at your current company but if you work at developing yourself and your passions it will get recognized in your next job.  This leads to the final motivator.
  • Self
    1. You believe that you need to be constantly improving and adding value because you know you will be sought after and recognized by the next company that sees this value.
    2. You know that you want to be the best so you continually read, study, and apply yourself to your practice and area of expertise to become a recognized expert.
    3. You constantly are reaching out to different parts of the organization to try to build synergies because you understand the power of breaking down silos.  You also understand the power of communication.
    4. You provide value to your company by going above and beyond in as many ways as possible because this allows you to be more marketable for your next opportunity.
    5. You accept that today’s environment is challenging. Competition is getting fiercer every day for the highest paying jobs.  You understand that in order to be selected you need to be able to stand out.
    6. You take responsibility for your future. You spend your own money to train yourself.  You do not complain and seek to embrace all that the future offers in both challenges and benefits.

So if you feel like you are in the 85%, look inside yourself, see what you want to become and work toward that every day.  You are your best motivator.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Passion - Jack Welch’s 3 Essential Inborn Leadership Traits Part 3

I respect Jack Welch enormously.  He is a CEO I hope to emulate and learn from but I have to respectfully disagree that 3 of his 5 essential leadership traits are inborn (existing from birth)
Jack Welch defines “Passion” as “They care deeply. They sweat; they believe.”
Passion can be learned as well.
Everyone in the world is passionate about something in their lives.  It is that one thing or hobby which drives them because they want to feel a greater sense of accomplishment from doing the activity.  If you look carefully at these people, passion is a factor of two essential things: 1.) wanting to give their all to something and 2.) having the will to drive toward that goal faithfully.
Wanting to Give Your All to Something
What does it mean to want to give your all to something?  To some it may be the long hours of practice and study necessary to be the best at something.  To others it may be the preparation and effort needed to accomplish a difficult goal.  When we are passionate about something we focus every cell in our body toward that endeavor.  It is this extreme focus that allows you to sacrifice other things in your life that normal people deem essential.  It is taking time out of your personal life to learn, apply and practice the skills you need to move further in what you are passionate about. 
It is learning from the people who are regarded as the best in the industry.  Understanding what got them there and trying to emulate their practices but with consideration for your strengths, weaknesses and background.
It is learning to love what you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to a cause without reserve.  When you love what you do, you care deeply about it.  You believe in it almost to the point of delusion.  You suffer inordinate amounts of pain gleefully and with unabashed vigor.
You have to look at today as preparation for your eventual greatness.  Looking outside of your box to the horizon to make connections toward your envisioned future.
Thought Without Action is Worthless
I often hear people say that they “love” something.  Throwing around the term haphazardly without understanding its true meaning.  Love is not just words.  Words alone are shallow. Notice how you listen to and pay attention to your love.  Watching intently when she/he lights up about different things and then following through to meet those desires and needs. Face every day with the same attention that you give to your love.  Be committed to making things better by taking actionable steps toward your goal every day. 
As you see yourself getting closer to your goals you will feel the passion growing in your heart.  It will become easier to give up distractions and non-productive behavior getting in the way of reaching your goals.  There may be occasional setbacks but if you are consistent and dedicated you will work through those setbacks and be stronger for it.

Energizing Others - Jack Welch’s 3 Essential Inborn Leadership Traits Part 2

I respect Jack Welch enormously.  He is a CEO I hope to emulate and learn from but I have to respectfully disagree that 3 of his 5 essential leadership traits are inborn (existing from birth).
Ability to Energize Others
Jack Welch defines “Ability to Energize Others” as “releasing their positive energy, to take any hill”.
The ability to energize others is built on the foundation of positivity, persuasion, and love. This ability can be learned through Part I of this series, studying Aristotle’s 3 modes of persuasion (Ethos, Pathos, and Logos), and having a genuine love of others (Eros).
Releasing Positive Energy
Releasing positive energy requires you to be realistically positive.  See part I of this series for details.  But imparting that energy and convincing others to see the positive side of things requires a bit of persuasion.  Aristotle gave us 3 key principles in order to persuade:  Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
Ethos (reputation, credibility, and ethics)
Ethos deals with your ability to convince and persuade based on your reputation, intelligence, credibility, moral standards, and likeability. When a project gets stuck or faces a setback, don’t sulk or waste time being discouraged.  Instead, immediately explain that every setback is an opportunity for the team to find a creative way to solve the problem or make the product/solution better.  Then proceed to reframe the problem and ask how we as a team can solve the problem or use the problem to pivot or become better, stronger, and faster. Keeping up the momentum is important but sustained momentum comes from respect and leadership.
You can quickly gain the respect of your team mates by teaching and mentoring them.  Help them learn a marketable skill.  Share your knowledge about negotiation, programming, public speaking, security, hacking, source code analysis, marketing, sales, etc. Once you have helped them to be better, they will naturally be more willing to listen to ideas you present.  Once they are willing to listen, you need to lead with action.
Show that you are willing to do whatever it takes (as long as it is ethical) to get the job done. Do not reject any serious ideas.  Be open to any opportunity that presents itself during the process to solve the problem.  No idea is dumb.  This will allow the person who has the solution but is usually afraid to speak up to participate.  Now that the ball is rolling you have to keep it rolling with trust.
Be transparent to build credibility and trust.  Gain a reputation for shooting straight and saying exactly what you mean.  People are usually willing to support initiatives whole heartedly when they know and understand the exact circumstances.  That is why it is important to let people know what is going on.  They will feel they had a part in making the choice to participate.  Energizing other in today’s technical environment is extremely challenging because managers need to excel at both soft and technical skills.
You got to be someone that other people want to follow.  Millennials are the most technically advanced generation; growing up with both the developed Internet and computers.  To inspire them, you need to be both extremely technical and have exceptional soft skills (EQ, negotiating, sales, networking, communication, etc.)  Millennials are really no different from us when we were younger (maybe more technically savvy) but looking for a way to move up and be successful.  You need to help all of those that work with you to gain career skills to help them move up the career ladder. If you see your goal is to help people progress, then you will energize others in their careers and lives.
Pathos (appealing to their passions and feelings)
Energize others by tying what they are working on to their passions.  Listen and talk to your team members.  Get to know your team members both professionally and personally.  Understand what they are looking for career wise.  Find out what things they are passionate about.  Understand what they feel confident about and their fears.  Learn about what makes them excited or annoyed.  Help them understand how what they are working on is related to their passions and give them responsibilities tied to their interests and goals.
Logos (appealing to logic and reason)
Listen to your team members to understand what their concerns are.  Make sure that you use logic to right wrongs and make decisions.  Hold off on letting your emotions get the better of you in difficult times. However, be not a mat for people to walk on.
Eros (Brotherly/Sisterly Love)
Have the best interests of the people you lead at heart.  If they are going through tough times personally then encourage them, invite them over for dinner, and take them out.  Help them with career decisions such as salary negotiation strategies, mentoring, training, and finding ways of building their confidence up.  Treat them as you would family. 
If you do the five things outlined above, you will energize those around you and enrich their lives.

Learning Positive Energy - Jack Welch’s 3 Essential Inborn Leadership Traits Part 1

I respect Jack Welch enormously.  He is a CEO I hope to emulate and learn from but I have to respectfully disagree that 3 of his 5 essential leadership traits are inborn (existing from birth).
Positive Energy
Jack Welch defines “Positive Energy” (the first essential leadership trait) as “the capacity to go-go-go with healthy vigor and an upbeat attitude through good times and bad”.  At first blush, it does sound like something innate but when you think about people with positive energy you start noticing common traits which can be learned.
Positive Energy Can Be Learned
When I say that positive energy can be learned, I am focused on the word “learned”.  This implies that a person has control over their life and if they want it bad enough—they will do whatever it takes to change.  So if you want to obtain positive energy the first step is taking a hard look into yourself.
People who radiate positive energy are comfortable with themselves.  They are not in love with themselves as Narcissus was but know themselves and have had time to get familiar with their weaknesses and imperfections.  Accept your weaknesses for the time being but know that most of them are fixable in the long run.
Positive people “put themselves out there” but in a way that says, “yes I am deficient in some way but it is only temporary because I am a work in progress”.  They are not afraid to publicly admit their current weakness by saying things like, “I want to improve my spelling” or “I want to learn more about Category Theory”.   They don’t say things like, “My spelling sucks” or “Category Theory is too complicated”.  Hearing their desire to be better makes you realize two things:  1.) there are other people in the world who are deficient like me and 2.) I can be better as well. 
Another way of obtaining positive energy is by being extremely healthy.  When you are not healthy everything in life is a struggle and negativity seems to be a shadow waiting to pounce on every event in your life.  Getting healthy and in shape is a way eradicate these shadows and radiate natural energy.  I love talking to people who are doing creative things to get their workouts in daily.  I use the time on the sit down bike to get my security research reading done then read while doing planks in between reps.  You feel different after exercising daily for 6 months.  Try 30 minutes cardio and 30 minutes of free weights to build muscle.  Stress washes itself away and you can actually work harder, more efficiently, and longer without fatigue.
Diet is also important.  People are drinking way too many sugary drinks and juices, as well as, eating processed junk food.  Try eating organic for 3 months.  Cut out all of the candy, sweets, processed meats, and junk food.  Eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  Again you will have increased energy, stamina, and your mind will be sharper.  All of this will improve your positive sense of well-being.  A positive sense of well-being naturally exudes to others.
Having enough sleep, keeps you from getting cranky and will also help you will think clearly.  When you think clearly, the problems that you face in your work and life are easier to solve.  Also, not being cranky helps you laugh more.
Laughing and being funny (not at someone else’s expense) is something that naturally releases positivity.  There is a certain positive energy which can be felt when you are within a group talking about how double and triple buffering is related to life’s different situations.  Yeah, you probably had to be there to get it but intelligent technical millennial minds are special.  The important thing is to see humor in every one of life’s situations.
Being thankful acknowledges the importance and kindness in another’s actions.  It shows appreciation to the person who gave you something to be thankful for.  Being grateful is also a way of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in our lives.
Be open to change, welcome it and enjoy it.  Strive to be “uncomfortable” in the direction of your career path.  Try different things and go to different places in the world.  And if you have to continually change, try to keep things moving in a positive direction.
Be steadfast in making daily improvements to your life.  Start small but commit to taking bigger daily positive strides.  In a year, you will not not realize how your life improved so much.
Accept the things you cannot change but believe that almost anything is possible.
Believe in yourself.  Believe that through hard work, perseverance, and creativity anything is possible.
Accept that life is difficult, unfair, and sometimes mean but you got to push through.  When you accept this fact, life mysteriously becomes easier.
Recognize the greatness in others.  Everyone is a miracle and has special talents.  They had to win the race to the egg against millions of other competitors.  Their genes had to survive all kinds of predators, diseases, and environmental conditions for the past 200,000 years.  Seeing the greatness in your team members will help you to have confidence in your team’s ability to get things done.
All of items above are things that you can obtain and learn.
But everything starts with you.

Setting the Direction, Values, Vision, and Culture

After reading "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh, I finally "understood" the importance of Corporate Culture and Values.  Having studied Corporate Values and Culture in school you learn the mechanics of what a corporate value is and how to properly define one but the true essence and value can only be understood by being a part of a company that effectively uses these to their benefit.
Basically a corporate culture is what gives life to a company's soul.  The corporate values are the essential nutrients that employees use to feed the company's soul.  As the corporate soul grows, it gives back to the employees; a sense of purpose and belonging.
Great CEO's understand the importance of shepherding, directing, and creating the corporate culture.
So that is why as a CEO I will focus everyone on being "Simply Amazing".  Everyone in the organization will ask themselves if what they are doing, enabling, creating, delivering is "Simply Amazing".  Their bonuses will be tied to how well they execute "Simply Amazing".
For example, all products and features for development will need to be "Simply Amazing".  "Simple" in that anyone will understand how to use and see the value of the whatever is developed.  "Amazing" because what is done is done in a way that was never thought of before but after seeing how it is done everyone is asking why they didn't do it that way in the first place.
Food prep workers will be asked how they can be "Simply Amazing".  How can they prepare food for large groups but tastes amazing?  Sponsor the food prep people going to different restaurants every week to try out the highly recommended foods.  Learn from what is good/new/creative out there and one up them.  Give employees who eat in the cafeteria an easy way to provide feedback.  Give line chefs ownership over food stations and provide a way for people to give real time feedback on the food.
Anyone hired, has to pass the "Simply Amazing" test.  Was the person interviewed "Simply Amazing" in an area of need, problem solving, grit, communication, conflict resolution, etc.
Sanitation engineers have to be simply amazing.  Ask them what they can do to make the experience walking around the premises, conference rooms, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc., "Simply Amazing".  Also, have ways for employees to report spills, messes, annoyances, to the sanitation engineers in real time.
HR has to ensure that employees feel the company is "Simply Amazing". 
Product managers need to prioritize around features that are "Simply Amazing".
Engineers have to think about how to develop features that are "Simple" and "Amazing".
The whole organization from the bottom to top has to be focused on being "Simply Amazing".  As people learn what it means to be "Simply Amazing" the employees will be asked to develop a set of Core Corporate Values supporting being "Simply Amazing".  Because the employees are developing the core values, the corporate culture takes on a life of its own.  Thus creating the virtuous cycle.

You Are Today, What You Will Be Tomorrow

Think It, Believe It, Act on It and It Will Eventually Come True.
That is the basic premise of many of the books similar to "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.  Many people believe the author is saying that all you need to do is think it and it will magically happen as a response from the "Universe". Some people will write this off as poppycock.  
But what I am finding, is that people need to understand how it works in practice.  As a manager, I see it all the time.  People stuck in positions, not knowing why.  Basically, it boils down to getting good at something and accepting it as your identity.  Then that person only looks for only those types of opportunities and gets "stuck".
What "Think and Grow Rich" is telling you is that you need to chang your thinking to get what you want.
So I am going to make myself a public experiment.
My goal is to become CEO of a large successful organization and I believe that I already have the ability to tackle that position.
I am going to chronicle my journey hoping other people will learn and get themselves out of their personal ruts.
The CEO of Southwest airlines, Herb Kellehr, was asked to choose only one area to focus on:  Customer Satisfaction, Shareholders, or Employees Happiness.  He choose Employee Happiness because "Happy Employees=Happy Customers=Increased Business/Profits=Happy Shareholders" (
The overall sentiment of the employees is a reflection of how well a CEO is performing.  One way for employees to feel special is for their names to be hear.  This is something that I learned reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.  Also top CEOs have been recognized for remembering their employees names, greeting them personally, and remembering details about them.
Here is the list of all the people that I acknowledge and greet when I see them around the building:
[Redacted List of 140+ first names only and positive details associated with them.  The list included people form all around the company, at all levels and groups (both here and abroad) as well as teams including: sanitation engineers, food prep workers, executive management, software engineers, HR, product management, business development, facilities security, etc.) If I provided too much information about someone, I apologize.  
Hey you live and learn.]
The whole point is that a great CEO knows the people that work with him and understands the importance of good people in his/her organization.  A great CEO will do whatever it takes (ethically) to build trust with his/her employees and ensure that they feel appreciated.

The Forgotten Art of the Phone Call

After working as a Director for over two years, I came to an interesting observation.
People overly rely on email to get things done when making a phone call has so many more benefits. Phone calls allows you to make connections, build relationships and share humanity.
I guess we are getting used to texting, email, snap chats and other forms of non-verbal communication and as a result we are losing the ability to make small talk.  
Emails can be easily ignored, can across with the wrong tone, and can be misinterpreted. A phone call is less likely to have these drawbacks.
However, holding a conversation requires you to think in real time and react to what the other person says.  It can be more intimidating if you have to speak a non-native language.
Despite the extra work involved in making a phone call; the benefits far out-weight the added effort.  Phone calls allow you to put a voice and personality to a name.  You can tell if the person is energetic and passionate about what they are doing, if the person is funny or serious, if they are similar to you and vice versa.  But most of all--you have the opportunity to make a friend. People see that you are human like them and can relate. 
I know it sounds cheesy but making friends is important to getting things done.  When I am in a bind, a friend that I made a long time back was able to help with the problem. 
So the next time you are thinking of sending an email to someone you don't know, try to pick up the phone instead.
And if you are nervous, here are some tips:
1.  Smile when you talk.  They can hear your smile.
2.  Be genuine in trying to get to know them.
3.  Speak clearly and confidently
4.  Let the conversation take a life of its own.  You don't have to stay on the topic of whatever reason you called about.  If they are saying that they are not doing well, you can say, "I am sorry to hear that, what is going on and is there anything I can do to help?"  
5.  Don't expect the first conversation to go extremely well.  Some people take time to open up to you, so periodically call them to get the person to trust you.
6.  You will get better with small talk as you practice.  So if you are in the grocery line and someone smiles at you, practice making small talk.
In no time you will be conversing like a pro.